Even since I encountered it in youth, I have  loved this poem written by Sir Walter Raleigh the night before he was executed. It offers a dose of sobriety to us easily intoxicated by life’s promise.

Even such is Time which takes in trust
Our youth, our joys, and all we have,
and pays us but with age and dust;
Who in the dark and silent grave
When we have wandered all our ways
Shuts up the story of our days.
And from which earth and grave and dust
The Lord shall raise me up I trust.

As I get older, the opening lines hit ever harder; I begin to feel how time begins to take things from me, things I once thought were mine forever. Children come, bringing joy, but also work and worry. They get older, and the charming, innocent, simple child grows into someone else; what the child was before, while not entirely lost, is still unrecoverably past. Eventually the dependent child becomes an independent adult and leaves the parental home, leaving parents to ponder ‘how quickly they grow up!’ Friends and the circumstances that gave rise to friendship come and go. No matter how hard we try, we cannot grasp life, hold it, compel it to stand still where we might wish.

A great sorrow shadows every earthly joy. The flow of time cannot be stopped; what we and others are today cannot be captured and kept as in a snapshot. Time keeps flowing, we keep changing for better or worse, and our circumstances change also. Man’s beauty flowers forth in youth, matures, and withers quickly in old age, consumed by voracious Time. This is flux, what Heraclitus perceived and expressed in his famous words, “You cannot step into the same river twice, for fresh waters are ever flowing in upon you.” It is what the Church Fathers and St. Paul refer to as “corruption”, the instability and inconstancy of man who constantly changes along with the rest of the world in contrast with the incorruptible God.

In the face of flux, man can choose one of two approaches. “Carpe diem”, seize the day–time passes quickly, youth and strength quickly fade, opportunity may not present itself again, so do it now or live with regret–St. Paul summarizes this philosophy as “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” In the face of constant change leading to inescapable death, this makes sense, and many live in accordance with it.

But St. Paul with the Christian Church have a different approach to the problem. Life is short, yes. But it is preliminary to eternity and decisive as to how we shall spend that eternity. Christ’s resurrection promises resurrection to the whole human race  that we may stand in the body before the Judgment Seat of Christ to be judged for the deeds we did in the body–in other words, to be judged for how we used the time and resources that were given us. All the flux, the change, the joys that can’t be held, the sense of loss–all this is perceived differently in the light of the resurrection and calls us to make a decisive break with the philosophy of “eat, drink, and be merry.”

Though Time blights our promise, limits our accomplishment, deprives us of what we thought was ours, it is transcended by the day without end in which all the good beginnings made in Time blossom forth into eternal beauty and fulfillment.

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Published in: on Friday, 27 March, 2009 at 13:43  Leave a Comment  
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